Rejoicing in Lament

As we approach the season of Lent, are there ways that you and your congregation are going to journey with Christ to the cross and resurrection? I’m often asked about how congregations can incorporate lament into their worship and their life. There are a number of ways to do this: such as recovering the reading and memorizing of the Psalms, and providing space in worship not only for confession, but also songs and prayers of lament. “How long, O Lord?” This question echoes all of our cries over the injustice, loss and unbelief in the world and in our lives. I sometimes suggest taking a particular season to rediscover the Christian practice of lament as well. This last fall, I discovered that quite a few groups were using Rejoicing in Lament for small group or congregation-wide studies. I am deeply grateful that it can be a gift on the path of both rejoicing and lamenting in the Lord....

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m not sure what to what to think of this Christmas jingle on the radio. But I do know that Advent and Christmas are double-sided – both joyous and humbling. It’s not about celebrating that all is well in the world and our lives right now. It is celebrating that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Why do we celebrate a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord? Because we are sinners in a disordered world. We need a Savior. We need a Messiah anointed with God’s Spirit. We need a Lord in the midst of our lordless, disordered times. We await, we rejoice. We lament, we hope. “Come, Lord Jesus!” In the last three years since my own cancer diagnosis, the sharpness of these gospel themes – of both rejoicing and...

God's work sometimes leads to strange stories. Last night, I was privileged to hear the whole of Handel's Messiah in a local church. Parts of it are so familiar that the drama of the Messiah can take us off guard. What comes right after the "Hallelujah" Chorus, in a section devoted to the Christian life in light of the resurrection? Is it a song about one victor piled upon another? It is a song of expectation, of waiting, of hope -- like in this season of Advent. "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." But after this line declaring hope in God, the next one is: "And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God." These quotes from Job 19:25-26 remind us that though God's promise is great, and our bodies are very good; yet our bodies...

 When disaster hits, it does not feel or look like God the King is ordaining what is right. The words of Psalm 102 stung, but they were nevertheless my prayer. The Lord “has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. ‘O my God,’ I say, ‘do not take me away at the midpoint of my life, you whose years endure throughout all generations.’” My wife and I had just celebrated our tenth anniversary and were the proud parents of lively 1- and 3-year-olds. But then I was diagnosed with cancer. A lethal cancer. An incurable cancer. The psalms of lament soon became a companion to myself and others traveling that journey with me—as all of our emotions of grief, anger, and alienation were brought before the Lord. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1). After discovering that the...

Is Medicine Our Master? I've been doing quite a bit of reflecting upon the meaning of our mortality as Christians in our contemporary cultural moment. Some of it has been preparing for the Carl Henry lecture that I will deliver at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on October 21, entitled: "Hope for Mortals: The Church’s Witness in the Midst of Dying and Death." Click here for details. One book that I've found very helpful in giving a portrait of how dying in the contemporary West has been turned into a medical experience is Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Gawande is a Harvard surgeon, and a keen observer of the way in which our society has increasing asked for medicine to "fix" an "unfixable" problem: our mortality. It is a profound meditation upon the gift, yet limits, of medicine. This has influenced my recent reflections upon the meaning of mortality...

Christian Wiman and I have an odd kinship: we were both diagnosed with incurable cancers at the age of 39. Our cancers are very similar, so we can talk shop about chemo, side effects and the bizarre experience of hearing that our lifespan has likely been chopped by decades. We're both parents of young children. And we've both written about our Christian faith in light of our cancer journey -- with Wiman, My Bright Abyss, and with me, Rejoicing in Lament. A few months ago we discussed incurable cancer together as part of an event at Western Theological Seminary. Christian is a poet (former editor of Poetry Magazine), and I am a theologian. In our books, we both turn to poetry in our season of suffering and theological reflection. Christian turned to George Herbert and a score of contemporary poets. I turned to the poetry of the Psalms and Job. Why did we turn to poetry?...

Last night I joined a group of cancer patients to hear a professor give an update on research on the cancer we share. I’ve been to many lectures and conferences on the topic. But one point caught me off guard: a recent survey in which two-thirds of the cancer patients admitted that they had hidden information about their side-effects from their doctors. The professor struggled to find the words: had they lied to their doctors? No, they hid from their doctors. Why? As the professor explained it, he talked about the maintenance chemotherapy that I take – an expensive treatment which extends remission, but brings a host of side effects. The patients were afraid that if they shared how they really felt on the drugs, their doctors would take them off. And their cancer would come back sooner. This moment gives a glimpse into the strange world of cancer treatment. The...

Posted on May 15, with Jonathan Merritt on the Religious News Service website. Click here, for a link to their website where you will find my latest thoughts on my diagnosis and some further theological reflections including responses to religious skeptics....